By now it’s a familiar sequence: turn south onto Hwy. 83 at the Garven Store; a few miles later, find the camp entrance and follow the caliche road downhill; turn left into the Frio River (while rolling the windows down); then a steep climb, through the cedars, across the cattle guard; leave the car behind and walk the pathway down to Laity Lodge.
Laity Lodge has always involved journey—whether it’s the Hill Country drive, the experiences that await every guest upon arrival, or even the evolution of the Lodge itself over time. But how do we mark the journey? And what does turning 60 mean for the future?
► Watch Gene Seaman’s full story.
Maybe topography is a good place to start.
Real County, Texas, where the Lodge sits, is hardscrabble country: drought-ridden, flash-flood prone. It’s remote: cell service drops off long before the pavement ends. Early maps of the area show few roads. Instead, the scattered residents and occasional visitors relied on the stone-bottom river beds as byways. Wagon wheel ruts are still visible in the river at a nearby ranch.
To venture into this terrain was, and is, to risk the unknown.
In reminiscing about the beginning of Laity Lodge, our founder, Howard Butt, Jr., wrote:
The year 1961 proved to be a pivotal one for me. That year, we completed the basic construction of Laity Lodge. The time rolled around for our first retreat, which also served as a time to dedicate it all to God. While in the planning stages, we had visited many well-known retreat sites, gathering as much information as possible. Long hours had gone into planning the design of the retreat center, the design of the buildings, the building locations, the interior design—even the location of the parking lot.
However, we really didn’t have a program laid out. We had a retreat center, but no real plans on how to move forward. While it must have seemed well organized to those first attendees, I felt anxious not knowing exactly the direction God wanted us to go. At that time, I knew little or nothing about how to run a retreat center.
It was a transitional time in my public ministry. I was moving away from my comfort zone in large crusades and moving toward the spiritual awakening of the laity. Our limited vision at the time centered on the idea of wanting to inspire everyday working people that all life is sacred—including the workplace. That we are all called by Christ to be his wherever we are. We wanted Laity Lodge to be an intersection of ideas and life experiences. But we were on a journey into the unknown.